WILMINGTON — The Revolutionary Black Panther Party of Wilmington raised concerns among local officials this week when it announced its plans to host an “armed human rights march and armed freedom ride” Sunday in Wilmington.

Mayor Bill Saffo is concerned about attendees possibly being armed, but is confident Sunday’s march will pass without incident.

“I don’t think there’s a reason to come armed to an event. … If there’s an altercation with somebody, in the heat of the moment a tragedy could happen,” Saffo said, adding, “If you want to picket or you want to demonstrate in the City of Wilmington, it’s your right to do that, but you’re not allowed to bring a gun.”

According to North Carolina general statue, it is unlawful for any person participating in, affiliated with, or present as a spectator at a parade, funeral procession, picket line or demonstration to “willfully or intentionally possess or have immediate access to any dangerous weapon.” Jim Varrone, the Wilmington Police Department’s assistant chief, explained those laws to organizers, according to a police spokeswoman.

City Councilman Earl Sheridan said the march is an example of a group demonstrating its First Amendment-protected rights to freedom of assembly and will likely take place without any problems.

“I think a lot of times when people hear that name, they have a knee jerk reaction, whatever it is,” Sheridan said. words-of-a-leftist-propagandist

According to the local Black Panther Party’s Facebook page, which was created Dec. 25, the events are free and open to the public. The post states that on Saturday, the group will hold a “human rights tribunal” from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Creekwood Community Center, and on Sunday the organization has planned an “armed march against terrorism and genocide.” No location is listed for the march, but a comment on the post states that it is supposed to start at 1:30 p.m.

“I would hope it goes cleanly,” Saffo said. “Whatever they’re marching for and whatever condition they want to help fix or talk about, they have a right to be able to express themselves and say what they’re demonstrating about and why they’re demonstrating.”

No forms yet

Before last weekend’s Wilmington Women’s March, some protestors expressed concerns about a city ordinance requiring protesters to stand 15 feet apart. Police did not enforce the ordinance when more than 1,000 people showed up to last Saturday’s event, and it took place without any arrests or tension between protesters and law enforcement.

Cathryn Lindsay, the police spokeswoman, said the Black Panthers have notified the city of their intent to march, but have not yet submitted forms for the event.

“We don’t get permits or approve a march,” she said. “The form is a notice to picket, march or demonstrate just in case there are traffic or security concerns.”

Linda Rawley Thompson, another police spokeswoman, said Chief Ralph Evangelous would not comment on the planned march as the department was treating it like any other demonstration the city has seen.

“We are not foreseeing any problems at all,” she said. “Like any other march, we are going to provide any necessary security.” 

March for justice

A poster about the Black Panther march stated it is an “anti-genocide march for black-Africans murdered by police in America” and “justice for Brandon Smith, Walter Scott, Lamont Keith Scott and all the victims in North Carolina.”

Smith was wanted on charges of shooting a New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office deputy when he was shot and killed by several police officers Oct. 13 in a wooded area of Wrightsboro following a car chase and foot pursuit. The police shooting was deemed justified.

Walter Scott was shot to death on April 4, 2015 in Charleston, S.C. by a former police officer. Cellphone video taken by a bystander showed Scott being shot in the back five times. A mistrial was declared in December after a jury deadlocked in the murder trial of the former officer.

Lamont Keith Scott was killed by plainclothes officers who had gone to an apartment complex in Charlotte looking for a suspect with an outstanding warrant who was not Scott when they saw Scott in a car with a gun. In November, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg District Attorney said the officer’s actions in the killing were justified.

Reporter Hannah DelaCourt can be reached at 910-343-2075 or Hannah.DelaCourt@StarNewsOnline.com.